How do I choose a locum tenens agency?

Experienced locum tenens physician Dr. Marye McCroskey answers some commonly asked questions about how to choose a locum tenens agency.

When physicians first start exploring locums work, it can be overwhelming. Connecting with work opportunities and locum tenens recruiters is not always intuitive. Years ago, when I started on this journey, I went online and signed up for information from all the locum tenens agencies that I could find. Bad idea. You can imagine my subsequent email inbox and the phone calls. So many phone calls.

My advice? Don’t do what I did. And to help you do it the right way, here are some questions you need to ask yourself before you start.

Do I want to work with a large locums company or a small one?

Larger locum tenens agencies have recruiters who work with physicians and recruiters who work with the healthcare facilities. While this may feel like an extra layer, it actually functions quite smoothly. Oftentimes, physician recruiters are specialty specific and they have access to a larger variety of job opportunities and locations to work. Larger agencies have departments that coordinate locum tenens details like licensing and credentialing. The locums agencies also have separate departments that arrange — with your input — travel and housing. Usually, a larger agency is a well-oiled machine. You are paid promptly, sometimes weekly.

Smaller locums agencies usually have a just few employers that they are dedicated to. The physician recruiter is often the company contact and has the primary responsibility of filling those positions. That means fewer layers. You may have to make your own travel arrangements and be reimbursed. Because they are smaller, the pay rate is frequently higher, but they typically pay more slowly. With one company it was up to six weeks.

The vast majority of agencies are reputable, and you can research them online. Ultimately, the choice of agency size will depend upon your personal preferences. I have worked with both large and small, and particularly if I am far away from home, it is reassuring to have that big company backing you up.

How do I find a recruiter?

Not to worry, they will find you. Once you have chosen an agency or two, you can sign up online and you will receive calls, emails, and even texts, maybe from multiple recruiters if it is a larger locum tenens agency. Also, talk to agencies when you are at conferences; they are always in the trade hall. Speak to several recruiters and see who you fit well with. Do they respond promptly with answers to your questions? Do they seem to understand your specialty? Do they bring opportunities to you that fit the criteria you requested? Then pick one recruiter at each company to be your point person. Typically, recruiters are very respectful of physicians’ time.

What about online job listing boards?

Locum tenens agencies will give you examples of jobs that may be available in your area. Commonly they are out of date, the listings are no longer available, or it is just a company ad. In the recent past, even if I contact the job listing, rarely do they respond. In short, I wouldn’t waste my time.

So how do I find a locum tenens assignment?

Allow your recruiter to do their research and bring you opportunities. Discuss what you like and don’t like about possible assignments and see if the employers are flexible. For example, if the job is Monday through Friday but you only want to work four days a week, is that an option? Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, just be reasonable. The recruiter will then “present” you to the company. It can take several weeks for a response, so be patient. The position is not binding until you agree to the terms of the assignment. Interviews and paperwork will follow, but your recruiter will walk you through the process. They will help you plan for your length of stay and stay in touch with when you need to look for your next assignment. If you decide to work with more than one agency, keep each of them apprised of your availability so that you can apply for positions in a timely fashion.

When you first decide to try locums work, it may feel like the agencies are pouncing on you and all want a piece of you. In reality, physician recruiters want to find you good work opportunities and ultimately are on your side.

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